After analysis, we have discovered that four years of threatened species records provided to the NSW Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) from Wildlife Rescue Organisations across NSW are missing from the Bionet database. Bionet is required to be used by developers and their consultants to prepare proposals and then by the government to review the environmental impact of developments that could clear habitat and have other damaging effects. Wildlife rescue data is critical to this process as it is an indicator of where threatened species are already under stress.
Of an estimated 400,000 wildlife rescues over the last 4 years not in the system (but required to be reported by wildlife rescue organisations) up to 28,000 are records of officially listed threatened species. Threatened species records in Bionet must be used by assessors in order to avoid or minimise impacts on wildlife, and is also used as part of the Biodiversity Assessment Method (BAM), which is used as part of the legislated Biodiversity Offsets Scheme.
According to the NSW Government “BioNet aims to improve biodiversity outcomes by enabling the community and government to proactively manage and enhance biodiversity in New South Wales through comprehensive, credible and robust data and information.” and according to NSW DPE “the BAM provides a consistent method to assess impacts on biodiversity values from a proposed development (including major projects), activity, clearing or biodiversity certification.
There are over 1000 threatened species and ecological communities in NSW. Wildlife listed as threatened under NSW law include - Eastern Pygmy Possums, Parma Wallabies, Spotted-Tail Quolls, Powerful Owls, Yellow-Bellied Gliders, Gang-Gang Cockatoos, Southern Corroboree Frogs, Grey Headed Flying Foxes and Koalas.
Threatened species data, dutifully provided by Wildlife Rescue organisations across NSW, has not been made available for development assessment since 2019 and in particular for the fast tracking process introduced by DPE. The Department has not given priority to uploading this critical data which was provided to them years ago at the same time as a ‘full speed’ directive was given to planning assessments.
Threatened species sighted near or in non-protected areas are overwhelmingly called into wildlife rescue organisations. These are exactly the records that are of core relevance to planning approvals and offset costs. While on-site biodiversity assessment is required for development proposals, the standard of investigation is often inadequate and short term compared to the longer term Bionet database. Bionet is also required to be used to show threatened species within 5, 10, and 20 kilometres of a planned development. Consequently there has been inadequate assessment by developers and DPE of critical biodiversity impacts influencing what habitat is cleared or impacted and any offset requirements.
These records also provide important detail to illustrate roadkill hotspots and the impacts of fragmentation. They are important tools for policy makers. For example in Campbelltown, Mt. Gilead Stage 2 is currently awaiting NSW Biocertification and Federal approval because of its significant impact on koalas. Public consultation and Department of Planning assessment took place in 2022. Since July 2019 there have been at least 350 wildlife rescues of koalas in Campbelltown, including 63 koala deaths that do not appear in Bionet. Hundreds of rescues of other threatened species have also occurred.
This threatened species black hole needs full investigation by the Minns government, with immediate priority given to entering missing records and reviewing developments with potential significant impacts.
NB: We have confirmed major wildlife orgs have delivered data to NPWS (as they are required to each year), who then hand data over to Bionet. After analysing multiple LGAs across NSW we cannot find Wildlife Rescues (coded as WR) in Bionet since July 1st, 2019. We have used the average of ten years of NSW wildlife rehabilitation data (2012-2021) to estimate four years of threatened species data missing from Bionet. However, the wildlife rehabilitation dashboard only contains records of animals that come into care, so healthy threatened species called into wildlife groups are not recorded in the dashboard - we expect the real figures of threatened species sightings reported to wildlife orgs to be higher.